The Swiss Reformer

(Part 1 of 2)

Born within two months of Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli came into the world in the village of Wildhaus in Switzerland. He became the parish priest at the age of 22 in a small town called Glarus. He was set for a comfortable life in the church, yet God had other plans. The town of Glarus was full of military men, set for war in the name of the Pope. A staunch patriot, Zwingli decided to join the men as a military chaplain.

In a terrible clash with the French, over 10000 Swiss soldiers were killed which radically affected the young man. It shook his foundations in the Pope and in war. When he returned home in 1516, he realized he knew a lot about the Scriptures from reading what others had said of them, but never read them himself. He received a copy of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and began to study and understand it. Only the Pope was allowed to interpret Scripture, so what Zwingli was doing was highly dangerous. Zwingli was so excited to read it, that he memorized all of Paul’s letters and almost all of the New Testament in Greek.

Yet he still remained in the Church, getting Papal commendation for his part in the war and becoming priest of the “shrine of the black Virgin.” His theology however was constantly evolving and changing as he continued to read the Bible. He studied Hebrew that he might read the Old Testament in its original language as well.

His fame as a preacher spread and soon he was appointed to be the main minister in Zurich. Yet here scandal hit him, as he confessed to visiting a prostitute. He repented and sought forgiveness, yet something more incredible happened that drove that from people’s minds. He stood up in his pulpit on the 1st of January 1519 and announced that he would be preaching through the entire Gospel of Matthew, instead of filling his sermons with religious rhetoric. After he finished that he wanted to preach the rest of the New Testament, verse by verse. This was the start of the Swiss Reformation.

Soon after, the great plague hit Zurich and many died, Zwingli almost among them. Yet during this time he developed such a trust and reliance on God that he was forever changed. He had finally understood mercy and would spend his life pointing people away from idols and images and saints and sacraments, and to the God who has mercy.

Though far less dramatic than what was happening in Germany, the Swiss Reformation was underway, with people understanding and hearing the word of God. However, vicious rumours began to circle about Zwingli, causing him to set forth his beliefs in the form of the “67 Thesis,” a comprehensive outline of reformed thought.

In it he argued that:

–          Christ is the Head of the Church, not the Pope

–          Christ’s sacrifice is complete and sufficient without any sacraments or indulgences

–          The Bible, not the Pope, is the Final Authority

–          He denied the existence of Purgatory and the praying to the Saints

–          Only faith in Christ could save, nothing else

Due to this monasteries closed down, priests left the ministry and the Swiss Church changed. Yet the final nail came on Easter 1525, where they celebrated the church service in Zurich in the common language of the people, not latin. Each person was not only given the bread, but also the wine of communion, and they abandoned the practice of sacraments, showing their break with Rome.

Next we look at some battles and some theological discussions in the life of Zwingli

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